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Johnny Sexton may provide silver lining as Ireland lose Kelleher

By PA
Ronan Kelleher and Johnny Sexton /PA

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Ireland head coach Andy Farrell expects captain Johnny Sexton to be fit for next weekend’s clash with Italy after losing Ronan Kelleher for the remainder of the Guinness Six Nations.

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Fly-half Sexton missed last Saturday’s 30-24 defeat away to France because of a hamstring injury but has returned to training with the squad during a two-day camp in Dublin.

Hooker Kelleher was forced off in the first half in Paris due to a shoulder issue and was ruled out of the remainder of the championship on Friday morning.

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Asked for an update on Sexton, Farrell replied: “All good. He’s going through his protocols.

“He joined in training yesterday, he’s worked through the end stages of rehab and we expect him to be fully fit next week.”

Munster’s Joey Carbery deputised for Sexton at Stade de France, producing an assured display in arguably the biggest game of his career.

Farrell would not be drawn on whether Carbery will be given further chances to impress from the start in high-profile games, with fixtures against England and Scotland to come following the visit of the Italians on February 27.

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“We’ll see. It’s not for me now – nor would you expect me to – to say who is going to start and who is not,” said Farrell.

“We’ll leave that to see how things unfold.

“But the experience was great for him. He’s put a few of those bits we talked about on to the (training) field today, so it stands him in good stead to push on with his career.”

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Injury-victim Kelleher has staked his claim as the long-term successor to the retired Rory Best in the number two jersey and his loss is a major blow.

The talented 24-year-old has established himself as a key part of the Irish pack, making seven successive Test starts, in addition to being his country’s leading try-scorer in 2021.

Leinster team-mate Dan Sheehan came off the bench as his replacement in the French capital, while fit-again Ulster man Rob Herring and Connacht’s Dave Heffernan are other options available to Farrell.

“It’s disappointing for Ronan and for us,” said Farrell. “Ronan’s kicked off his international career with a bang and the more experience he keeps getting at this level, the better he’s going to keep on becoming.

“But injuries are part of our sport and how Ronan deals with that as a young professional is going to help him down the track as well.

“Obviously him being out of the Six Nations will give other lads an opportunity to step forward.

“Dan’s doing really well, it was a fantastic occasion and learning experience for him going to Paris and playing so long there.

“It’s a competitive position and that’s exactly what we want.”

Kelleher <a href=
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After an opening weekend win over reigning champions Wales, Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes were extinguished against Les Bleus.

The error-strewn Irish battled back from 22-7 down to move within a point of Fabien Galthie’s hosts before ultimately falling short.

Farrell says it is vital the engrossing defeat serves as a lesson moving forward.

“It has to be because otherwise it stands for nothing,” he said.

“As you would imagine regarding an occasion like that, there are quite a lot of learnings.

“I’d be here all day if I started going through them all really.

“As I said after the game, congratulations to France, they played outstandingly well.

“But certainly in the first half, we could have been more accurate, more disciplined in how we played our game – I’m not just talking about discipline with the referee – I’m talking about inaccuracies which led to ill-discipline.

“Some good learnings there but I stand by what I said after the game with regard to the fight and the spirit that we had to come back into the game and give ourselves a chance.”

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